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Issue 15, our latest magazine, was launched on 7 April -  take a peek inside

Read our latest blog posts about the Launch and the University's May Festival

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Editing POTB: a peek behind the scenes

Today’s blog post is an interview with the Guest Editor of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat – Martin Walsh.

We’re talking to you today, Martin, as Guest Editor of the next edition of POTB but it’s certainly not your first involvement with the magazine. It’s about to go into its fifteenth issue, quite a remarkable record really for a regional writing and arts publication. When did you first get involved and how?

It must have been around 2003/4 that I first heard of the magazine.  I liked the look of it and submitted a story.  To my astonishment and delight it was accepted, my first ever publication in a high-quality literary journal.  That was in Issue 4 (2005).  Over the next three years the magazine transitioned from one financed and run by Aberdeenshire Council to a project run entirely by volunteers.  I shared the Editor role for Issue 6 (2007) with the previous incumbent and then took over as the first volunteer Managing Editor for Issues 7-9.  To be frank, I never felt very easy with the title but we are very much a team and my own deficiencies in the role were more than made up for by the quality and assistance of those around me.   So taking on the role again is not quite so intimidating this time. NB I’m also the Sales & Finance Manager, and have been Treasurer, Publicity, and Prose Panel Convenor [as well as general dog’s body!]

And what have been the high (and for balance, low!) points over all those years?

The high points are always those moments when you hold a new edition in your hand for the first time: the culmination and justification for a lot of work and worry.   And then there are the Launches when the Team and Contributors come together to celebrate the publication.   To see the joy of the newly published contributors [especially those first-time published] is a reward in itself.  The low points are probably those of any volunteer group:  worrying about how and where to find the volunteers and the energy to keep the whole operation going.

I guess each editor of POTB since Issue 1 has brought their own overall approach to the task. What’s yours going to be and what do you see as the main challenges?

We have now evolved a pretty well-organised system, thanks to the talent within the Team, so that my job is now fairly minimal.  I used to worry a great deal about whether we would receive enough quality writing and art during the call for submissions.  But, touch wood, that hasn’t been a problem in recent years as we now have an extensive network, not to mention our wonderful website and improved publicity.

OK, so I submit a piece of work for POTB 15. It goes to one of your Selection Panels and is evaluated ‘blind’. How does that work and what’s your role in the process?

Our Panels (prose, poetry, art) are made up of three or four Panellists with a proven reputation in their field.  We try to mix age, gender and background in each panel to provide a balance of viewpoints.  We also try to refresh each panel regularly. It doesn’t matter to us if you are a famous writer/artist or if this is your first ever submission, the Selection Panellists won’t know who you are so your work will be evaluated on a level playing field.  We’re delighted when we accept pieces by first time submitters – and we have rejected works by well known writers.  My role is to recruit talented panellists, explain how the panels work and how they should approach the process – then not interfere in the selections other than offer advice.

If you had to give your own personal tips for a submission to get selected for publication in the magazine, what would they be?

That’s a hard one.   I have a particular liking for the unusual and for humour but the panels act independently of my preferences.  As a general dictum we do ask our panels to select as wide a variety as possible e.g. light/dark, local/global, Doric/English, humour/pathos.  To achieve an ideal balance we sometimes have to reject good pieces where we have more than one on a similar theme, a point mentioned in the comprehensive guidance we have evolved – see our Submissions Hints and Tips.

So the Selection Panels have done their work, you’ve got all the prose, poems and artwork the editor wants to put in the magazine. What are the remaining essential steps to getting the magazine printed and how will you be involved in them?

After the selection process, the Panel Convenors, along with our Designer and myself sit down to agree the page-ordering and layout of the magazine.  This is an important stage in the production cycle, our aim being to produce a magazine in which the juxtaposition of prose, poetry and artwork [i.e. the running order] provides maximum impact, also one that is pleasing to hold and to look at. The written pieces are then forwarded to our Copy Editors, who put the work into our House Style and may suggest minor changes to the authors.  As Editor I am there for counsel, if necessary, plus we have a Consultant Editor as a final resort.  Once we have received brief biographies from all the contributors, our layout team prepare the magazine, using a desktop publishing tool. The written pieces are sent to the authors for final proofing, then the whole magazine is transmitted to our printer.  The last task, in which several of us participate, is to check the final galley proof.

I know POTB likes to launch each issue at a special event. Any thoughts on how and where you’d like POTB 15 to be launched and when do you expect that to happen?

The Launch will take place in the spring of 2019, most probably in late April, but we don’t yet know where.  Ideally we’d like to return to the beautiful Phoenix Hall at Newton Dee, whose community ethos we share.

Finally, not all readers may know, but you’re a writer yourself. Do you have any projects on the go and will the editor’s job leave you any time to work on them over the next few months?

Yes, I am working on three different projects: a fictionalized memoir of my time in Africa; a collection of Latin-American short stories; and an assortment of magical realism tales.  There will be moments when my own writing has to take a back seat, but the Editor’s job is not hugely time consuming given our task-sharing structure.  There are other wonderful volunteers within the group who bear heavier workloads – they are the unsung heroes of our team.

The interview with Martin was conducted by POTB’s new(-ish) PR manager, Roger White.